Manchester United goalkeeper, André Onana, is showing why Manchester United pushed to sign him from Inter Milan and stuck by him despite his early season poor start.
It is hard enough for a goalkeeper to get credit at the best of times, let alone in a match where a 19-year-old wonderkid scores a sensational overhead kick and it is even more difficult for goalkeepers to be credited at the end of the season that’s why there’s an award for the best goalkeeper now.
During the prime years of Manuel Neuer, Petr Cech, Gianluigi Buffon, and Iker Casillas, none of them secured the prestigious Ballon d’Or, despite their pivotal contributions leading to significant victories for their respective clubs.
Perhaps the Yashin Trophy award settles the debate surrounding the under-appreciation of goalkeepers, although that isn’t the primary focus of this article.
Following his crucial penalty save against FC Copenhagen in the UEFA Champions League, Onana has undergone a remarkable transformation, reminiscent of his teammate Harry Maguire, who has also experienced a positive turnaround in fortune at Manchester United.
Another clean sheet for the goalkeeper and he now shares lead in the Premier League in this category (5) with Sam Johnstone and Nick Pope.
Against Everton over the weekend, the Cameroon international had lots of work to do as he made six saves, faced an Expected Goals figure of 1.31, and also completed 66 per cent of his passes.
One of his six saves was a point blank save from a Dominic Calvert-Lewin header, which he caught comfortably. That’s what Manchester United have always been looking and been confident in replacing David De Gea with.
HIS DATA IS IMPRESSIVE
Manchester United spent £43 million on him in the summer, which could rise to £47 million and the goalkeeper is emerging as an asset for Manchester United, rather than a liability, and this is a really good sign for the future.
From 51 saves, André Onana has 78.8% save rate which is better than any goalkeeper in the English Premier League this season.
He prevents 2.67 goals a game and +3.4 post-shot expected goals which goes to tell that he is doing the basics of safeguarding a goal post.
27 launches, 2 smoothers, 2 punches, 3 clearances, 84 recoveries, and 7 duels won are all impressive figures for a goalkeeper whose supposed best asset is his ability to pass but that is not all there is to him. He has 536 touches so far this season, more than Ederson but less than Alisson Becker (575).
He has completed a whooping 451 passes and ranks fourth in the league for goalkeepers with Alisson Becker (484), Ederson (479) and Vicario (458) leading the way. (I will go into his passing stats later).
For any one who doesn’t understand what this data means, it simply goes to say that he, Onana is underrated and he deserves more credit than he gets.
IS ONANA REALLY A BALL-PLAYING GOALKEEPER?
It is simple. He is a ball-playing goalkeeper and it is because of this ability that Manchester United bought him and refused to renew the contract of David De Gea, the team’s first-choice shot stopper for over a decade.
Onana is the perfect description of your modern day goalkeeper. He posseses the ability to play from the back and at the same time, he can give medium-range passes and can also hit a long-range pass.
Onana has made a total of 651 pass attempts across all competitions, successfully completing 493 of them, resulting in a completion rate of 75.7%. In the context of an exam in Ghana, this achievement would equate to a B2 or B+, depending on the specific grading criteria of the school. While this is a commendable score, it also suggests that there is room for improvement.
The 27-year-old excels in short passing, boasting a flawless 100% completion rate with all 122 attempts successful. For Manchester United’s aspirations to build play from the back, especially in line with Erik ten Hag’s strategy, Onana proves to be a reliable choice to initiate attacks from deep.
His proficiency extends to medium-range passes, where he maintains an impressive success rate of 97.6% (241 out of 247). However, his long-range passing performance falls short, completing only 127 out of 277 attempts, a subpar result for a goalkeeper of his caliber.
Even without delving into the statistics, it’s apparent that Onana tends to deliver hopeful long-range passes, a aspect of his game that could benefit from improvement.
And it is pretty obvious that the Cameroon international still does not trust his centre-backs completely because he hits more long balls than short passes.
Also, Onana has miscontrolled the ball just once, which is less than Alisson Becker (3). This is testament of the fact that he feels comfortable on the ball which is something Manchester United need if they want to build from the back.
VINDICATING WHY TEN HAG PUSHED FOR HIM
Critics have often scrutinized the Cameroonian goalkeeper for his unorthodox style. While he may not conform to the traditional goalkeeper mould and might seem out of place at times, his unconventional saves ultimately achieve the crucial objective of keeping the ball away from the net.
Although he doesn’t always adhere to the typical goalkeeper norms and occasionally appears awkward, the essential factor is preventing goals, regardless of the method employed.
Initially signed to bring innovation to the goalkeeper role at Old Trafford, the Cameroonian’s emphasis on playing from the back and showcasing ball-playing skills has taken a backseat to his recent standout performances with his hands.
In the current Premier League season, Onana leads with the joint-highest number of clean sheets. Furthermore, he holds the second-highest save percentage, trailing only behind Alisson Becker.
This accomplishment is particularly noteworthy, considering he ranks third for average saves per 90, indicating that he has faced more challenges and been called into action more frequently than most of his counterparts in the same position.
AFRICA NEEDS ONANA TO DO WELL
André Onana endured a difficult start to life in a United shirt but has quietly gone about his business to establish himself as one of the very best in the Premier League.
Not just in the Premier League did he have a horrendous start but across all competitions. Conceding 30 goals in 19 games pretty horrible if we are being honest and that is why has come under immense scrutiny since joining the Red Devils.
André Onana said his error for the first goal was the reason Manchester United lost to Bayern Munich in their opening game of the 2023/24 Champions League and he was right. He made a huge blunder which cost the team dearly.
“It’s difficult to lose this way because in the beginning we started very good,” Onana told TNT Sports. “After my mistake we lost control of the game. It’s a difficult situation for us, for me especially because I’m the one who let the team down.
“Because of me we didn’t win but we just have to move on. This is the life of the goalkeeper.”
It looks like all is in the past and he, Onana is becoming a shinning light for African goalkeepers. His rise from FC Barcelona to Jong Ajax to Ajax to Inter and now Manchester United is testament that with hard work and self-confidence one can achieve anything.
He not only represents a shining example for African goalkeepers but also breaks barriers in the Premier League, where it’s uncommon to see a black man as the first-choice goalkeeper for a club of Manchester United’s calibre.
His success opens doors for other African goalkeepers, offering them the rare opportunity to be a club’s number one choice in the English Premier League.
He is gradually improving and with time, he may grow to fill the shoes of the greatest Manchester United goalkeepers to have ever played for the club.